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June 26, 2019 | Rome, Italy

Citronelle

By | 2018-03-21T18:39:10+02:00 January 11th, 2010|"Suzanne's Taste"|
Picasso's lemon... pitcher not included.
I

have just experienced my first windfall. Thanks to corporations and bankers, the word has pejorative connotations, but in my book, it’s like cellardoor to Tolkien.

My terrace looks like Rousseau just set it up for a Natura Morte. Four very large branches laden with lemons take up most of the backyard, and the tree itself, still intact after 190 kilometer winds from Spain devastated many of the fruit trees in our small French fishing village, still stands.

Stalwart, these half-a-century-old trees. The poor thing, branches split and hanging to the ground, has perked up after my Catalan neighbor chopsaki-ed it with his chainsaw — the lemon, plus an overgrown arbousier, bearer of tiny red prickly balls of manna which make memorable ice cream and jam. But that’s another story.

Meanwhile, the lemons have promulgated friendships with most of our little town, including the local grocery owners who will not have to order lemons from their purveyor for several weeks, and my exercise class, to which I took over 10 pounds of lemons that disappeared, literally, in 30 seconds. I’m collecting recipes from everyone. You can only eat so much tagliatelle al limone, lemon tart, lemon curd, preserved lemons, lemon chutney, lemon marmalade, lemon veal and lemon chicken. Not to mention tossing back thimbles of limoncello every evening, a habit forming practice we are struggling to break. Soon. Maybe.

Would that everyone have this problem of lemon distribution, the price of lemons (and everything else) being what it is, but I speak from experience that once you’ve cemented your friendships starting with the mayor on down, you have to get out the zest peeler and chopping block and solve your own dilemma.

I started with a classic pasta al limone, and when Mardi Gras rolls around, I’ll segue into a more abstemious sauce made without cream.

  • To serve four, grate the zest of two large lemons, juice another and set aside. Cut the lemons in half, scoop out the interior pulp, and add it to the zest.

  • In a medium skillet, heat 1/2 liter of heavy cream into which you have put 1 garlic clove, crushed. Bring the cream to a simmer and reduce it a little over medium heat for about 5 minutes until the cream thickens. Remove the garlic and add the zest and pulp.
  • Simmer again for 5 minutes, add the lemon juice and 2 soup spoons of grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

  • Serve over fresh tagliatelle with more Parmesan on the side and a little fresh basil or lemon zest for garnish.

A lemon tart, meanwhile, will win over the most stalwart non-dessert-eaters, and one this is my favorite. Either make your favorite pie crust or buy one ready to go and proceed:

  • Heat the oven to 200 C. Grate a lemon. Beat 2 egg yolks plus 2 eggs with 1/2 cup each of sugar and lemon juice plus the grated rind, and cook, stirring, over low heat until thick.

  • Whisk in 250 grams of soft butter and continue stirring until very thick.

  • Pour the lemon curd into the tart shell and bake for 20-30 minutes until the top is golden brown.

As for lemon chutney, which can be eaten with curries, meats and chicken, my easy recipe requires a blender or food processor.

  • Juice 6 lemons plus one large orange, reserving the juice and getting rid of all seeds. In a large heavy pot, heat a little olive or sunflower seed oil.

  • Add 3 sweet onions, the lemon rinds, 2 cloves of garlic, a handful of raisins, and a peeled and cored apple, all chopped fine (this is where the food processor is invaluable).
  • Add 1 cup brown sugar, all the juice from the citrus, and a generous pinch of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, cardamom, and ground coriander. If you’d like a more Indian chutney, add a spoon of garam masala or curry powder.

Cook it up, covered until thick and shiny. Store in airtight jars in the fridge for months on end.

As I write, it is snowing in southern France. Alas, perhaps nature has taken care of my lemon problem. I hope not. And what to do with all these chutney jars?

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway
Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of la cucina romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles snf noe maintains a personal site and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.

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